Ethnography
 
We sat silently,
some fifty of us,
the whole island,
in the ten-by-twenty hut
that was the school
waiting . . .
Rain quickened against
corrugated tin
and winds rattled rafters 
like a kettle on a steady boil . . .
the Tongans seemed 
so casual about it,
the babies quiet 
with breastfeeding;
but then, by mutual assent, 
they lost it:
even the men, the big men
who had stooped to enter in
the low door
started banging on pots 
and bawling like women
(who for their part 
screeched like gulls).
I nudged Haipai,
who was the principal
and educated on the big island,
but was carrying on
like all the rest . . .			
Like an actor
stepping out of character
he admitted 
with a streak of shame
that the old people
before the Christians came
worshiped Palau
the God of the Storm
who is a blind man
staggering cross the waves
and does not intend
the harm he causes-
the people make noise
to warn him
to make him go around . . .
A gust cut off any
further explanation:
it whipsawed the hut
almost stripping off the roof-
and I could hear
the great steps of 
the Thunderer
blindly striding closer . . .			
I did not think
but snatched up a pot
and did my part
banging away 
in pagan abandon
muttering to Haipai
that it made sense to me,
perfect sense.
 

 

 

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